Grading the DCU1 of 12DC is seven months into its "Rebirth" era and in the midst of its first proper event with Justice League vs. Suicide Squad... but how is it doing? According to comic book sales charts, they are selling well... but are they good?
To answer that question, Newsarama's Best Shots Review team is evaluating each "Rebirth" titles after they hit the six issue mark. Why six issues? To get a true handle and provide the proper breadth to review the title.
Back in September our review team took on the launch titles, and now they turn to the second volley of titles - 10 in total - to see how they've fared.
With school back in full swing, the Best Shots team opted to review DC's "Rebirth" era titles so far with letter grades - including pluses and minuses.
So how did your favorite title fare? Did any titles that you missed out on get high marks? Find out.
New Super-Man2 of 12When it comes to the Justice League, DC readers have come to learn that you should accept no substitutes — and unfortunately, that’s mostly the name of the game with New Super-Man, which takes Chinese analogues of the Justice League, mashes them together with Spider-Man-style teenage angst and tops it off with a forgettable but ultimately unlikable lead character.
Writer Gene Luen Yang has gone on record to discuss how much thought has gone into New Super-Man, but ultimately things like his deliberating Kenan Kong’s name doesn’t wind up translating to the final product. Perhaps it’s due to Yang building up his world before he’s finished firming up a likable and engaging character — the petulant, teenage Kenan doesn’t seem to have much in the way of a dynamic beyond being either a bully or an inexperienced loudmouth, and pairing him up with Chinese analogues for Batman and Wonder Woman only adds as a distraction.
Additionally, artist Viktor Bogdanovic has a lot of potential, as he taps into the same visual sphere of artists like Greg Capullo, Brett Booth, and Todd Nauck, but while he can draw a dynamic fight sequence, the overall mood of this series still feels very unclear, oscillating between cartoony and bright to occasionally flirting with the idea of dark and dramatic. It also doesn’t help that he’s been tasked with portraying a number of unfamiliar costumes, which keeps New Super-Man from establishing a strong visual hook. Ultimately, though, with a script as talky as this one, the art winds up feeling a bit like an afterthought, which winds up being this New Super-Man’s Kryptonite. ’Rama Rating: D — David Pepose
Cyborg3 of 12Although John Semper, Jr.’s attempt to inject some lost humanity back into the character is largely successful, a clutch of clumsy scripts and a revolving door of wildly differing artists leaves Cyborg's newest "Rebirth" ultimately dysfunctional. After a pulse-pounding Rebirth one-shot and a two-issue battle against Killgore the unpronounceable, Cyborg descends into the maze of his own mind to retrieve memories stolen from him by his father all the way back during his origin. An overarching plot-line involving Vic's father being kidnapped and then impersonated by the insidious Malware works, especially as the series rolls on to #5 as Malware greenlights the creation of a new Cyborg built from fatally wounded American spy Echo for nefarious purposes.
Although the character progression of Cyborg becoming more in touch with the person he was prior to his accident is enjoyable, Semper paralyzes his solidly plotted scripts with stilted dialogue and excessive narration. Giant paragraphs of text are dotted with cringe-inducing action hero one-liners and exposition made completely redundant by the penciller's rendition of the scene, which slows the pace of each issue considerably.
Another big drawback is consistency. Five illustrators have contributed to the series' first six issues, which makes for a jarring read from issue to issue and even page to page; Issue #5’s transition between Allan Jefferson's precise, thin lines to Derec Donovan's simplistic, thickly-inked and pin-headed cartoon characters make for a real “wait... what?” moment. Will Conrad and Allan Jefferson rise above the rest, offering up attractive pages with realistic styles that nail the contrast between Cyborg's warm human side and the truly alien metal that gives him power. Although John Semper Jr.'s Cyborg isn't without its highlights (with new supporting character blind jazz Musician Blue providing some much-needed heart and soul), there are too many drawbacks toCyborg's overall package to truly recommend. ’Rama Rating: D — Oscar Maltby
Suicide Squad4 of 12So what do you do when you have Jim Lee doing the art on a comic book but know that we won’t be able to string together a timely and lengthy run of 20+ page issues? Rob Williams’ solution is kind of novel. In the "Rebirth" version of Suicide Squad, Jim Lee is drawing just over half of the issue, focusing on a bunch of villains who can maybe do some good while the second part of the book is more character-focused pieces, trying to provide some insights into villains like Boomerang and Deadshot. But even with the character-focused story vignettes, Rob Williams’ stories in Suicide Squad too much resembles this summer’s Suicide Squad movie because it focuses too much on the spectacle of these meta-human battles without plumbing the depths of the characters.
As a "Rebirth" title, Williams and Lee’s stories feel too much like the "New 52," trying to make cool and edgy stories without ever giving the characters or even the narrative any kind of unique point of view. Instead, Suicide Squad feels like business-as-usual for DC. Before "Rebirth" even started officially, Williams wrote a Harley Quinn special showing her being brainwashed by Amanda Waller into believing that heroes like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman were the true villains. That promising and unique idea has been absent so far from the title, instead replaced by a generic plot and interchangeable characters. Maybe we’ll see a return of that plot point in the current Justice League vs. Suicide Squad event.
The emotional and physical flatness of Jim Lee’s art creates pages that are all surface with no real depth to them. These characters grimace and growl with the best of them but they don’t really connect with each other in any way other than occupying the same panels and pages. Even the movie created at least some personal connection between Harley Quinn, Deadshot, and Killer Croc but Lee never gets you to believe that these characters are inhabiting the same space and fighting in the same battles. Any relationship that Williams and Lee build between all of these disparate characters is merely through spatial proximity on the page and not through anything resembling any kind of real human interaction. ’Rama Rating: C- — Scott Cederlund
Batgirl5 of 12After the critically-acclaimed and much-adored Batgirl of Burnside run ended, Barbara Gordon was given the "Rebirth" angle of leaving her beloved Gotham for a jet-setting adventure all across Asia. While the series started as something accessible, as time went on it started to feel flat as a monthly installment.
The pacing and structure of Hope Larson's story began as strong, though somewhere around the third issue the components began to fall apart. Larson and Rafael Albuquerque's presentation worked well enough, but there wasn't enough meat on the bones to really enjoy the full course. Barbara's opponents are thinly defined and while it still had the charm and wit we had come to expect from this character, the conclusion to the "Beyond Burnside" felt incomplete and makes it seems Babs is lost in her own book.
While Albuquerque’s artwork was stunning to look at, particularly with the fluid and dynamic fight sequences, this story could have shed more light as Babs found herself, but all we got was just another series of well-meaning potential with little payoff. ’Rama Rating: C- — Lan Pitts
Raven6 of 12Marv Wolfman returns to his arcane teen hero in the surprisingly wry and weird Raven. Raven, unmoored from her idea of a normal life due to the death of Tim Drake and the breaking up of the Titans, heads to San Francisco in order to carve out an existence with her aunt and her family. Of course, where Raven goes, strangeness follows and in this mini-series that strangeness comes in the form of a massive energy sphere that is trapping the souls of her classmates in a terrifying loop of old carnival rides.
Though Wolfman would be the last person I would think would adapt well to a teen-centric story, I was proven delightfully wrong with Raven. Along with the engaging supernatural elements of the story, including a deep dive into Raven’s power set, Wolfman presents a dryly funny take on his arcane creation, striking a nice balance between the droll scene stealer from the Teen Titans cartoons and the powerhouse member of the new "Rebirth" Teen Titans. He even surrounds Raven’s awkward goth persona with well-rounded “muggle” characters like her aunt’s seemingly normal family and a group of friends at school, giving her a much-needed support system beyond the hero community.
While Wolfman delivers a surprisingly fleshed out look at teen life, artist Alisson Borges and colorist Blond give this mini-series a manga inspired wiry look filled with expressive characters and richly-colored backgrounds. Straddling the line between the mundane and the otherworldly, Borges and Blond keep the look and tone of the three issues consistent throughout and gradually get bigger and bigger as Raven’s situation becomes more and more dire. Full disclosure, my expectations for this series were fairly low, but after experiencing Wolfman’s love for character and Alisson Borges and Blond’s attention to delivering engaging visuals, Raven was a pleasantly surprising walk on the dark side. ’Rama Rating: B- — Justin Partridge
Harley Quinn7 of 12Since being relaunched as the Clown Queen of Coney Island, readers have seen Harley take on her new role of anti-hero with gusto with a heavy helping of slapstick. It was pretty much set in stone from the get-go with her inclusion in the "New 52" Suicide Squad, as well as the movie that the past few years Harley was going to be better and bigger than ever. While the latter is an absolute certainty, it took some time before the former would be in effect.
Well, in 2016, she got really good!
No longer restrained to the title of henchwench, Harley branched out on her own, for real this time, and established her own rogue's gallery and even her own squad (not the suicide kind). Having been part of the later waves of the "Rebirth" event, Harley has found herself a new man (well....sort of) with the character Red Tool, and we finally get to see the woman underneath the red and black. The “Die Laughing” arc was a strong enough establishment for what was to come, but things feel exponentially more cohesive down the line, especially with the “Eat To This Beat” story.
While Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner scripted some severely funny moments that give us an inside view into Harley's mind, the book’s strong rotating art team of Chad Hardin and John Timms comes across as a united vision for Ms. Quinn. Plucked from obscurity when the first book was launched, Hardin has definitely proven he has the right style of his sophisticated cartooning that fits right in Harley's crazy world. ’Rama Rating: B- — Lan Pitts
Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps8 of 12Once a shining light in the DC pantheon, Hal Jordan had seen better days following the departure of seminal scribe Geoff Johns, as a number of creators tried and failed to bring that spark to the Green Lantern mythology, with an increasing number of bizarre changes dulling this franchise’s promise. Writer Robert Venditti himself is no stranger to this, having shepherded Hal during an ill-advised stint as a “renegade” Lantern with long hair and a trenchcoat, wielding Krona’s omnipotent gauntlet rather than a paltry power ring. Thankfully, the Powers That Be at DC brought Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps back to basics, and Venditti has helped lead the charge to a solid sci-fi action title, thanks to an infusion from some talented artists.
Interestingly enough, while the title of this book is Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, thus far Hal has stood largely separate from John Stewart, Guy Gardner, and the rest of the Lantern crew. Hal’s story has been about bringing the character back from his almost unrecognizable state, bringing about a surprisingly engaging storyline about Hal struggling with his own omnipotence and his potential loss of humanity. John and the rest of the Lanterns have opted for a more traditional route, tapping into the politics of the Sinestro Corps and engaging in space operatic battles such as a fight against Starro. These stories haven’t been revolutionary, but they have been much more streamlined and accessible than some of the more convoluted and obtuse Lantern tales of the past few years.
But the real hook for Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps has been the art teams involved. Rafa Sandoval has delivered some of the best pages of his career with this book, avoiding the pitfalls of over-rendering his alien characters and instead lending a clean and dynamic style for the entirety of the Lantern Corpsmen. Thanks to Venditti giving him space to breathe, Sandoval’s fight sequences have been big, bold and uncomplicated, and there’s something to be said for having Hal smash a Sinestro Corpsman in the face with a plasma-generated diesel. Meanwhile, veteran Lantern artist Ethan Van Sciver has also pitched in for a handful of issues, and while his artwork isn’t as bouncy or action-packed as Sandoval’s, his inking style has a real creepy sense of mood that has done well for the Sinestro Corps in particular.
Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps might not reach the lofty, franchise-building ambitions of Geoff Johns, but this is certainly an important book at DC Comics that has made some important steps towards righting itself. While there’s still something missing to make this run truly iconic, Venditti, Sandoval and Van Sciver are going for a slow burn instead, incrementally building up readership thanks to a solid foundation of action and vibrant artwork. ’Rama Rating: B — David Pepose
The Hellblazer9 of 12After a rocky go of it with occasional moments of greatness during the "New 52" era, The Hellblazer has thrived inside of "Rebirth." Writer Simon Oliver, turning away from the bombastic and spell-soaked stories of the previous mainstream titles, returns John Constantine to his roots, placing him back in London and in the crosshairs of a few nasty pieces of work, both magical and non-magical making this new series a much more grounded and Vertigo-esque return for the magus. Oliver also makes great use of Constantine’s allies in this new series, such as ever-suffering Map, still-stalwart Chas, and the enigmatic Swamp Thing, who has moved bit player to full on co-star as he embarks on his own engaging side plot that just recently connected to the main narrative in issue #5.
Adding to the street-level tone of the series is artist Moritat, along with a stable of colorists including Carrie Strachan, Tony Avina, Andre Szymanowicz, and Moritat himself. Though not as stylish as Constantine’s last main title, Moritat’s rounded lines and detailed oriented take on the London streets, dingy pubs, and idyllic English countryside puts the visual language and tone of The Hellblazer back in line with the classic tales of the Garth Ennis, Paul Jenkins, and Brian Azzarello runs; less spell casting and more cobblestone streets and warm pints, just like it should be. While decidedly more low-key than some of Constantine’s most recent adventures, so far The Hellblazer is a strong example of drawing from the past in order to strengthen the future. ’Rama Rating: B — Justin Partridge
Titans10 of 12With the return of the classic Wally West in DC Universe: Rebirth #1, the anticipation for the Titans series couldn’t have been higher. After the one-shot, it seemed safe to assume there would be some pretty heavy implications regarding the universe-altering threat that, per the "Rebirth" promotional materials, “no one saw coming.” Instead, writer Dan Abnett surprised many readers by reintroducing longtime D-list Flash villain Abra Kadabra.
For some, this may feel like a bait-and-switch tactic. However, there certainly seems to be more than meets the eye as far as Kadabra’s role in the stolen time and memories in the DCU. Easter eggs, such as Kadabra’s blood dripping onto his pocket watch, and lines like, “it’s… his handiwork, it can only be,” should serve as reassurance to readers that Abnett is taking a slow-burn approach to what’s sure to be an incredibly captivating long game.
From an artistic perspective, there’s a lot to love about Brett Booth’s visuals. His dynamic and engaging layouts serve as the perfect framework to accompany Abnett’s enticing, fast-paced scripts. At times, though, Booth’s cartoon-like style makes it a bit difficult to take vaudeville-mustachioed Kadabra seriously as a potential universe-wide threat. Consistency is another concern, with picturesque panels often followed up by characters that appear overly lanky in their proportions.
While more consistent artwork would definitely be a plus, the role Titans plays in the greater DCU alone propels this series towards the top of DC’s ranks. It’s a book that does require a bit of patience, but Abnett’s introductory arc does a stellar job increasing the anticipation for what will hopefully be an extremely satisfying payoff. ’Rama Rating: B+ — Jon Arvedon
Deathstroke11 of 12After time away from comic books, Christopher Priest has made a triumphant return with Deathstroke which has succeeded in being a globe-trotting twisted family narrative. Despite the numerous locations and non-linear mode of storytelling that Priest is so favorable towards, the book has a laser focus. It’s dense, not obtuse – all of the relevant information is there, just not necessarily in the correct order.
In some instances, it’s more important to look at what Slade does over what he says, so it’s great that the rest of the creative team is of as high a caliber as Priest. Whether it’s the legendary Larry Hama assisting with page breakdowns meaning even the busiest pages are still clean (you should expect nothing less from the artist of the G.I. Joe silent issue), the pencils of Carlo Pagulayan in conjunction with the defined inks of Jason Paz resulting in such evocative artwork or Jeromy Cox on colors, creating a morally gray world for Slade, only for it explode into color when the action starts.
This is very much a series which rewards close attention. Couple this with the consistency of the creative team involved and you have Deathstroke, one of the most interesting books of the line, and one which is sure to be rewarding on the reread. ’Rama Rating: B+ — Matthew Sibley
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